Lila clutches her pearls, literally.

Cover courtesy of The Closet

Truthfully, I’ve been avoiding writing about this one. I am unsure if the purpose of having a sexual assault storyline is to:

(a) bring awareness to the issue

(b) use it to make an interesting storyline

(c) a cautionary tale for teenage girls

For any of these, it still is pretty damn frustrating. Not much else to do but give you the deets:

Lila and John Pfeiffer, sports reporter, are starting to hang out. Lila is into John because he is really interesting and genuine, not like the rich dolts she usually dates. Also, he actually listens to her and cares what she has to say. So, since it is actual a somewhat interesting and actual less shallow relationmship, it has to be too good to be true.

They finally go out on a date, Lila wears a black spandex dress, and they go to Miller’s point. They start making out, and Lila enjoys it, but then he gets aggressive, and then…well, you can guess, it’s pretty scary. John tells her “you know you want it” and even unbuckles his belt. Which is ironically the most specific reference to someone’s actual anatomy in any book.

Lila manages to get away and is (obvi) very upset. She shuts herself in, and…gasp!…doesn’t care about her looks or makeup. Of course, Mr. Fowler is out of town. Many of Lila’s friends get annoyed by her sulking and depression. Really, she’s being such a buzzkill. Surprisingly, Lila completely rebuffs her housekeeper, Eva’s offers of support. It is pretty sad that Eva is the only parent-like figure that Lila has, and she doesn’t seem to realize it.

John suddenly turns from an interesting guy to an aggressive sociopath. He taunts Lila in the hall and threatens her if she tells anyone. Meanwhile, Lila has another one of her famous parties and John has the audacity to show up, and after he taunts Lila more she breaks down and yells at him for what happened. It’s all over school and the students are divided between believing Lila and believing she made it up. I think Caroline Pierce had an aneurysm when she heard this gossip.

Here’s the other surprising thing: Jessica seems to be the only one who cares that Lila is acting different. She claims it is because she misses having someone to go shopping with, but at least she gives Lila some tough love and is pretty assertive in supporting her and getting her help. It is maybe the one time where I don’t totally hate Jessica. I know, right?

Elizabeth, despite being the savior of the needy, is doubtful of Lila. The fuck? Suddenly she is not going to feel empathy for Lila because she thinks Lila is a snob and god forbid anyone special enough to work at The Oracle should dare do something like that? Or maybe she is just mad the attention is on someone she isn’t able to help.

Another student, Susan Wyler,  emerges from the character bermuda triangle, and admits to Lila that she went out with John and the same thing happened. (I feel like this is similar to an episode of 90210. Or something.) They both confront John in the Dairi Burger, stating that he needs help. Suddenly John’s friends realize what happen and leaving him sitting all along, to ponder the error of his ways. Lila suddenly feels a bit better, but isn’t totally cured by the end of the book, which is a bit more realistic. Although she does end up getting involved with the world’s most inappropriate therapist, but I’ll write about that later.

In the completely ridiculous subplot, Sam and Jessica are going through…the opposite of sexual assault, I think? As in, they can’t keep their hands off each other and they are afraid that they will let things go to far. Just get over it and wear a condom. What’s the big deal? They both seem to want it badly, and the only reason they find they want to stop is because of some uptight morals and not because of their own choice. So they both decide to engage in activities that won’t allow them to have too much physical contact, and hilarity ensues. And then they resolve it by just agreeing to trust each other.

Why was the sexual assault plotline juxtaposed with the ridiculous subplot? Anyone who has taken Intro to Women’s Studies knows that sexual assault is not about sex specifically. Was that trying to lighten the tone?

Ok, now I shall step onto my soapbox. John seemed to be angry because he broke up with Jennifer Mitchell, who was being distant and wishy-washy with him. It got him annoyed and of the “you girls are all alike, you seem to want one thing, and then say another! No means yes!” mentality. So really, it’s not John’s fault that he tried to assault Lila? It’s because his girlfriend dumped him? THE FUCK??!?##

It seems that these teen stories of sexual assault seem to follow the same pattern: Girl likes guy, they go out, guy attacks, girl sinks into deep depression and blames herself, guy manipulates situation and terrorizes girl, only with the assistance of a savior helping them, confronts boy and shall overcome. Sure, it may help in giving some PSA about assault, but it doesn’t always happen this way. There are a HUGE array of emotions that happen after an assault, and all of them are valid. Some girls may not get upset, they may channel it in other ways or report it right away. Some girls often stay in a relationship with the guy. I just don’t remember seeing any deviation from the standard plot. And the “I Spit On Your Grave’s are few and far between. Even Thelma and Louise was a unique take on it.

I didn’t read this one the first time around (probably because it didn’t include a party, a makeover or a Slam Book) so I am not sure what I would have got from it the first time. Never trust guys? Be careful who you date, they might rape you? If it happens, it will ruin your life? If it happens, there is hope? I’m not sure.

Despite my annoyance for the expected story arc involving sexual assault, this recalls one of my favorite made for tv-movies, When He’s Not A Stranger, starring the always lovely Annabeth Gish. The assault scene is actually very hard to watch, but it’s very compelling, and she does triumph in the end, with the help of the less significant Dillon brother. Also, in a very odd way, this made me excited to go to college. NOT because of the assault, but it portrayed college not as a wild party with crazy shenanigans, but as a serene place where a gal can just spend her time quietly studying and befriending a nice, non-macho guy in her science class. (Dammit, it’s not on Netflix).

On a completely different note, I must insist that everyone drop what they are doing immediately and read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and the sequel, Catching Fire. It is an example of young adult fiction that is amazing and compelling, and appeals to adults as well. I read both books with a 72 hour period. As fellow book lovers I know you can relate to this experience; it was the kind of book that caused me to lay in bed awake and think about for hours. It haunted me as I went through my day. I loved the sci-fi element, the writing style, the premise, and the fact that the characters were set in a world where modern day standards of attractiveness and social norms did not exist. It had just enough of a love triangle to be enticing and not ridiculous and irritating.  I am counting the days until the third book is released in August. Grab a copy and clear your schedule.

The one where Mr. Collins is actually being appropriate, or #11 Too Good to Be True

Firstly, thanks to all the new readers I’ve acquired lately. Please keep passing along the link. I want as many people to get the joy (i.e., pain) of remembering and reliving the oppressive, manipulative, shallow Sweet Valley World. It’s done wonders for my self-esteem. I hope it has helped yours too.

Damn, I did not realize that attempted sexual assault was one of Francine’s favorite topics. I am not sure if she is using it to exploit the problem and a serious social issues that utilize the fucked up gender dymanics in society. My guess is not.

Cover girls: Suzanne’s not all that. I love the “bitch please” look Elizabeth’s got going on.

Mr. Devlin is a lawyer friend of Ned’s who live in New York City, and suggests an exchange of his daughter Suzanne for one of the twins. They both want to go, so Ned ends up flipping a coin. Elizabeth wins, and because she is a total doormat and Jessica is a totally borderline sociopath, she guilts Elizabeth into letting her go.

Suzanne, apparently is a “knockout” and looks like a movie star/supermodel. We have to hear 100 times how skinny she is. And she’s nice and helpful and loves everyone and everyone loves her. There is a junior class picnic (i.e., I think the only people who go are our usual main characters) and everyone is all up on Suzy. Winston keeps serenading her with dumb songs. I’ll give you five guesses as to what teacher is chaperoning the picnic. Suzy supposedly almost drowns in the lake and Mr. Collins jumps in to save her and pparently tuches her chest a lot. I don’t know. That’ swhat is says. It seems fishy, but no one questions it because Suzy is so wonderful. And skinny.

Jess and the city. Cue the mention of every clichéd image of New York City in the eighties. They eat at Windows on the World, ride in a horse-frawn carriage around Central park, go shopping at Tiffany’s….Of course the Devlins are rich. Jess meets Suzanne’s boyf Pete, who is essentially an Upper East Side Bruce patman. She forces him to go out with her, and they go to a symphony and Jess is bored and tried every desperate way she can to hook up with Pete. He’s not having it. I love when Jessica is rejected. Jessica is also having a shitty time in nyc. She expected men to fall all over her, but she hangs out with Suzanne’s bitchy friends and gets drunk and passes out at their party. She also endures a boring dinner party thrown by Mrs. Devlin where the only teen there is a girl who plays to flute and -HEAVEN FORBID!- just got back from a camp for overweight kids. Holy shit, could she hammer in the message any further? Overweight people are gross. We get it. But you know what else is gross? Manipulative sociopath southern Californian teenagers ho base their self-worth on their attractiveness to men. HATE!

Just a side thought- since she hangs out with wealthy assholes in nyc in the eighties, I just imagined an American Psycho crossover, where Jess meets Patrick Bateman, who will kill/sleep with any woman he can find, and he finds her so repulsive even HE doesn’t want to be around her. Slash fiction writers, get going on that.

Ok, back at Sweet Valley, Liz lost her lavaliere, you know the one her parents gave her and Jess on their sixteenth birthdays. They only mention it in every single fucking book. It turns out that Suzy stole it! Because she’s mean!!! It turns out that Suzy is a bitter hag because her parents put her in boarding schools all her life and don’t care about her. So she lashes out by manipulating men and others around her. Sure, she’s fucked up, but finally an interesting character! Can we get a spin-off series please? And she has her sights set on Mr. Collins. So, when Liz has a job babysitting Teddy, his son, Todd gets Laker tickets for that night so Suzy glady steps in to cover for Liz. When she gets there, Mr. Collins is all back off girly, but she persists. After he gets home she tries to get him to give her some wine and to kiss her. They imply that Rog gets an erection, but at least he has some good sense to tell her to get the fuck out of his house. Suzy wants revenge, so she rips her shirt and tells Liz that Mr Collins attacked her. Liz, being the hue pushover, believes it, and has Ned and Alice tell the SVH principal.

Back over to attempted rape story #2, Jessica is out with Pete again in New York, and finally she invites him up to the Devlin’s apt. He gets kinda drunk and akes his move, and Jessica pushes him away, and he’s all “you’ve been begging me, you little cocktease” and the Devlin’s come home in time. Um, I am not sure what the message is here. Don’t lead men on? Is this supposed to parallel the other sexual assault storyline? I have no idea. I think when Francine doesn’t know where the plot is going she just throws sexual violence in.

Lila has a birfday party at Fowler Crest and on the way Todd and Liz drop by Mr. Collins’ to ask him his side and Liz realizes she’s been a fool. She goes to confront Suzy at the party and then Suzanne shows her true colors and everyone realizes what a faker she is. It’s all very Melrose place. Winston also accidentally on purpose spills punch on her white Hallston dress which enrages her. Well, at least she’s not fat.

Suzy goes home, Jess comes home and lies and says she had a wonderful time in nyc. Sweet Valley goes back to harmony.

Other thoughts:

Talk about appropriate. Liz babysits for Mr. Collins? Isn’t that a little weird? Plus, she kisses him on the cheek when she leaves his house.

Lila invites the whole junior class to her birthday, instead of just the people she likes. Still it seems as if the same ten or so people are there.

Suzanne tried to spread a rumor at the party that Liz hit her head and turned into slutty Elizabeth again. Bruce is around when they are talking about it. Uh, awkward? I wonder if she and Bruce have ever talked about it.

My grade: D-

The one in which Elizabeth awakens from the coma to become a nymphomaniac, or #7, Dear Sister

First things first: I remember thinking that Jessica was sooooo pretty on this cover. It is one of the better pictures of her, but that hair! It’s the combover! That’s what my hair looks like if I wash it but let it air-dry.

Ok, so Liz is still in a coma at the Joshua Fowler Memorial Hospital. I mention the hospital’s name because the name is mentioned every time they talk about the hospital. Obvi, it’s a relative of Lila’s.

So, Liz finally wakes up only she’s not Liz, she’s basically…Jessica. Or a selfish nymphomaniac. In other words, Jessica. Of course, first thing she does when she wakes up is flirt with her doctor at the Joshua Fowler memorial hospital. And the doctors and nurses can’t shut up about how gooooorgeous the twins are. Is it really appropriate for a neurosurgeon to comment on? Haven’t I learned suspension of belief yet?

Ooooo, clever literary device. The doctors had suggested that if Jessica talks to Liz, she may wake up. This allows Jess to recap everything that’s happened in the series so far.

So Liz returns to school and snubs both Enid and Todd and declares that she has no time for them. Todd thinks Liz is holding a grudge against him for almost killing him on the motorcycle. He mopes around a lot but accepts it. Oh, Todd, you are too good for this! Move on!

Ned and Alice let the gals have a pool party at their house, as a welcome back to the world for Elizabeth. Elizabeth wants to invite only boys. Hah! I knew someone who threw parties for guys only. Although it was in college. Elizabeth tricks Jessica into doing all the work for the party while she uses the “I’m tired and still recovering excuse.” Jessica, you have tasted your own medicine AND IT IS BITTER! Elizabeth spends the whole party amidst a gaggle of guys that seem to be encircling her and laughing at everything she is saying.. The ubiquitous Ken Matthews is there and she uses some sort of double enttendres to flirt.

Ok, some side story about some twin girls that stay with the Wakefields and Elizabeth always dumps the responsibility onto Jessica. She even is forced to take them on her date to the drive-in. Comic relief…I guess?

Elizabeth continues to do horrible things to good people- she writes something in Eyes and Ears about Ken cheating on his girlfriend in the hopes that they break up so she can have him. She even makes Winston do her homework for her. Nooooo, not Winston!

Wow, we get a whole chapter from Todd’s point of view. Usually there are side characters that get some perspective, but rarely Todd. My god, he is such a snore. No juicy tidbits about his kinky fantasies about dating a twin or descriptions of the guys in the locker room. Just more brooding about Elizabeth.

Lila has a theme party, with two themes, a costume theme and a “pickup party” theme. Where people pick each other up. Uh, as opposed to other kinds of theme parties? Jessica and Elizabeth go as sexy matadors. Don’t ask.

Elizabeth flirts with Bruce and he thinks it is Jessica wanting another chance (he wishes). When he finds out she is Elizabeth, he gets his designer boxer shorts in a twist with excitement because Elizabeth is the only girl he has yet to “conquer.” And by “conquer” he means forcibly have intercourse with. He starts getting her drunk on wine and before they are about to leave, Todd stops them and takes Liz home after she passes out. Because even though he treats her like crap, deep down he loves her and can’t wait to have another frivolous fight with her.

Meanwhile, Bill Chase, the Sweet Valley surfer/stoner, gets caught in Elizabeth’s whirlwind cock-teasing. He’s always been in love with her from afar but afraid to talk to her. So when she shows interest, he asks her out. Bruce also wants Liz to come to his private beach house, so she plans on blowing off Bill. Jessica apparently suddenly is in love with Bill so she poses as Elizabeth and goes out with him. They do stupid date things like walk on the beach and whisper sweet nothings and Bill confesses his love for Liz. Blech

Meanwhile, Liz snuck out with Bruce to his lair of seduction. They make out and shock!!! Bruce feels her boobs. That Bruce is such a boob-toucher. Finally they make it upstairs and to the bed. Bruce runs downstairs to get more wine (i.e. rufies) and Elizabeth gets up and hits her head on the table, suddenly turning back into the real Elizabeth, and does not remember anything from the time she woke up from the coma. Omg! Just like Kyle Baldwin on The 4400. Was Liz used as a vessel for the future humans to talk through also? Doubtful. Can I get a medical explanation for what happened? Anyway she does the requisite slap-Bruce-across-the-face ands runs out onto the beach where she finds Todd and instantly he knows she is now back to normal. Ah, young love reunited!

Seriously, this was a good one. I think this ghostwriter got a BA in creative writing from Harvard.

Other thoughts:

Francine continues to hate the fatties. When Jessica is getting ready for a date, she muses that she is glad she lost weight recently because Danny Stouffer would not want to date a “blimpo”. Uh, random and uneccesary.

What the hell is with all the dumb nicknames people have for each other? Elizabeth calls Ken Matthews “All-American.” Ugh. Mr. Collins calls Liz “Brenda Starr”. Ugh. Todd’s nickname on the basketball team is “Wizzer” Wilkins. Because he has to pee a lot? If so, that should be my nickname.

Are we really to believe that Bruce has actually slept with a lot of girls? People at Sweet Valley seem to have no genitals, they walk around with Barbie Doll crotches. None of the guys that Liz and Jess usually date ever MENTION sex. I’ll bet Bruce has slept with some MILF at his parents’ country club.

My grade: A